In the end, the grand opening of the Emo Spray Park yesterday provided the picture perfect memories organizers had wished for when they came up with the idea four long years ago— kids screaming and running through the various play structures, enjoying the last few weeks of another childhood summer.
“For me, my kids were the driving force behind it,” enthused Lincoln Dunn, fundraising chair for the park.
“Everytime I came down here for the 18th Saturday in a row and left at seven o’clock at night and missed dinner and had my kids say, ‘We never see you anymore,’ I knew what I was doing it for.
“Actually my son said to me last week after he had been in the park three days in a row, ‘Dad, now I know why you spent so much time down here.’ It was nice for him to acknowledge that.”
“You can feel the kids, they are having a great time and that’s what makes it worth it,” added Michael Loney, project manager for the park.
“Lots of times you’re working, getting frustrated and wondering is this worth it? Now you see that they are enjoying it, it’s worth it.”
Although the spray park has been open since July 25, yesterday marked the official grand opening, complete with a barbecue and speeches from dignitaries like local MPP Howard Hampton.
“This is a great addition to the community,” Hampton remarked. “You can see how popular it is with kids, and parents are going to find that kids are going to be drawn here like magnets.
“This will become one of the focal points in the spring, summer and early fall for kids, parents and grandparents.”
With strong last-minute fundraising, the board raised over $225,000 for the community spray park.
“This is one great piece to the community,” noted Emo mayor Ed Carlson. “As we were talking about before, about the amount of man hours that went into it, that doesn’t happen in every community.
“Having a splash park here is a testament to the giving of the people in the community to see this built for the kids.
“It’s a project that has given back to the kids themselves and hopefully they’ll take ownership of it and remember it’s there for them to enjoy and that’s one of my greatest wishes is they look after it like it’s their own, cause it is.”
“This isn’t like the CT scan in the Fort, it’s easier for people to open their wallets for that cause they can see the difference,” added Loney. “This is a spray park, it’s just for fun, it’s harder to get support. But the community opened up their wallets.”
After starting construction last fall, wet weather pushed back the original planned start date of July 1.
“When it comes to weather, there is only so much you can do—you’re at the mercy of it,” said Loney, father of two kids. “And when you are dealing with volunteers, before the lakes went out, we had lots of people here, and then after the lakes went out, it’s harder to find people on weekends cause everyone is busy.
“It was a small group of four or five people who pushed to have it done, here every free moment to get it done.
“That’s really what did it. It was a small group of committed people along with volunteers who would come. Some people would only spend a few hours but it all counts,” noted Loney.
After originally budgeting the project at below $100,000, it soon ballooned up to over $200,000 with Carlson ballparking the final damage at $250,000. Loney was a little less with $230,000.
However Dunn speculated with the amount of donated materials and equipment, the price tag was over $350,000.
“I’m proud of what we accomplished for a small town,” noted Loney. “A spray park like this is something a city like Thunder Bay might have one or two of these but for a small town of like a thousand people, it’s a huge accomplishment.“
“It’s a great way to get kids doing things,” added Hampton. “One of the major challenges for youth, it’s too easy for kids to sit in front of the television or computer screen or electronic games.
“But none of those include activity. This includes activity, it gets them moving, interacting with other kids and it’s going to make a difference.
“It was a strong fundraising effort that didn’t just focus on Emo but the whole Rainy River District. As the community got engaged, they saw what it could be and this is the result. It’s a testament to people ingenuity, hard work and wanting to make something for their kids,” added the MPP
Looking back at it, Dunn jokingly replied “cause we were nuts” when asked why the group came up with the idea.
“I saw one of these out west when I was on holidays, and I thought first off, it was really cool for the kids,” explained Dunn. “But secondary to that, this can be an economic driver for the community as well.
“It brings people out to Emo. I heard people saying it brings people out from Fort Frances, Stratton and Devlin. They come here, they stop at Tompkins to go shopping, they stop at Cloverleaf to go shopping. It’s projects like that I hope brings economic change, too.
“I heard one parent tell me she is using the spray park to keep his room clean. Every day he wants to go, so she says they will go as long as his room is clean. It’s worked so far.”
People are already speculating on what the next major project will be for Emo.
“The next thing I think you’ll see is a push for access to the waterfront,” suggested Hampton. “[The spray park] is going to be an almost everyday thing and I predict the next thing they want to do is to be able to use the waterfront.”
However, Mayor Carlson has a different idea.
“Emo needs a walking trail out to the sports field so I think that will be the next push, probably with the new council,” he remarked, adding council is already working on new funding. “I would like to see it done for next summer.”